What’s in the Sky - May 2020
Moon Phase: First Quarter 1st Full Moon 7th Last Quarter 15th New Moon 23rd First Quarter 30th Planets: Venus is in the western twilight sky after sunset. Mercury joins Venus in the western twilight sky from the 22nd. Mars is in the eastern predawn sky, rising just after midnight at the beginning of May. Jupiter rises in the late evening but is best viewed high in the eastern predawn sky. Saturn, like Jupiter, rises late in the evening but is best viewed in the eastern predawn sky. Worth a Look:
5th: The Eta (η) Aquarid meteor shower peaks on the morning of the 5th. This is one of the best southern hemisphere showers and is known for its swift moving meteors that are usually a striking yellow colour. Meteors occur as the Earth passes through the debris field left by passing comets and in this case, it’s the well-known Halley’s Comet debris field we will pass through. The meteors appear to come from the direction of a particular point in the sky, called the radiant. The radiant for this shower, as shown in the image to the right is in the constellation Aquarius and near the star Eta (η) Aquarii, however the meteors can appear in any part of the sky but tracing their path back will lead to the radiant. The best time to observe any meteor shower is after midnight. This year the Moon is above the horizon most of the night, however on the morning of the 5th, it sets at 3:28am Eastern Standard Time (EST) providing a few moonless hours to observe the shower (twilight doesn’t start until 5:37am EST). While the meteor shower is best observed away from city lights, brighter meteors are visible from city suburbs. Imaging meteor showers is not easy as the meteors can appear in any part of the sky. A wide angle lens is a must along with short continuous exposures and if you are lucky, you might capture a meteor or two! 12th and 13th: Late on the evening of the 12th, the waning gibbous Moon sits nicely between Jupiter and Saturn. However, a few hours later in the pre-dawn sky on the morning of the 13th, the Moon will be beside Saturn. This movement is due to the Moon moving in its orbit – it moves about 13 degrees per day towards the east and we are seeing this movement against the background stars and the more distant worlds of Jupiter and Saturn. Both the evening of the 12th and early morning of the 13th will provide a good opportunity for observers and wide-field photographers. While the planets will be closer to the horizon in the evening sky and perhaps a little more photogenic, the early morning sky will also include Mars closer to the horizon and if you have a wide angle lens then this could also make a lovely image. 15th and 16th: The last quarter Moon will be above Mars in the pre-dawn sky on the 15th and on the following evening below the red planet. 24th: A clear view to the western horizon will be needed to see the thin waxing crescent Moon sitting between Mercury and Venus. Mercury will be above and Venus below the Moon. It will be a good opportunity for both observers and wide-field photographers to see the often elusive Mercury.
You can download a star map for May here.